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Zimbabweans and churches still wait for full election results


After Kenya’s disputed elections in December, when the nation’s churches were accused of being biased in favour of certain ethnic groups, Christian groups in Zimbabwe have, like the country’s citizens, waited in silence for the declaration of the result of their presidential elections.

At the same time, the common call of Southern African church leaders in the region has been to urge the leaders and people of Zimbabwe to exercise restraint as results of the 29 March elections are slowly released.

The Regional Faith-Based Initiative said on 2 April, "We appeal to political leaders to pursue the path of peace and to restrain their supporters from violence during this period." T he initiative includes the Interregional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa, the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa, and the Association of Evangelicals in Africa.

Zimbabwe’s combined opposition officially won a majority of the 210 seats in parliament, thus defeating President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.  This represents the first official loss for the governing party since 1980, when the country gained independence from Britain.

No official figures have, however, yet been released for the presidential vote, in which a candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

However, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has declared its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, as the outright winner of the presidential elections with 50.3 percent of the vote.

In Cape Town on 2 April, South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican leader in South Africa, who was prominent during the struggle against apartheid, called on Mugabe to "step down with dignity" and make way for a new leader.

"That is democracy. Democracy is, you change government when people decide," Tutu told journalists after a memorial service for anti-apartheid activist Dr Ivan Toms.  "I mean when your time is over, your time is over."  Tutu added, "We hope the transition will be a peaceful one, relatively peaceful, and that Mr Mugabe will step down with dignity, gracefully."

Tutu acknowledged that Mugabe played a pivotal role in the armed struggle that toppled the Rhodesian regime that preceded his rule, and was "someone we were very proud of".

"I believe that Zimbabweans have suffered far too long, and I would support any deal for a change of government in Zimbabwe," Tutu said.  "Mugabe has been in power for long and there’s a need for a change.  Zimbabweans have put up with too much and it will be in everybody’s interest that there are no more problems."

Also in Cape Town, the Rev Kenneth Meshoe, the president of the opposition African Christian Democratic Party, who leads his party in the South African parliament, expressed disappointment that election observers had left Zimbabwe too soon.

"The ACDP is disappointed that the SADC [Southern African Development Community] observer mission left Zimbabwe before the results of the elections were announced. We feel it was unwise and premature to declare the elections free, fair and credible while there continues to be so much uncertainty."

While the elections were "free" said Meshoe, "we cannot agree that the elections were fair, particularly since Zanu-PF had an unfair advantage over opposition parties through media coverage.  State controlled media gave Robert Mugabe wide coverage for years while denying MDC the same. The media was used to denigrate and vilify the MDC while the State was applauded."

The news service of the Mennonite World Conference on 3 April reported its current vice-president and president-elect, Bishop Danisa Ndlovu, himself a Zimbabwean, as saying, "We think the opposition may have won the elections but it is possible that there will be no clear majority".

Ndlovu acknowledged that the delay in announcing results was creating anxiety, and that a declaration of a win by Mugabe had "the greater potential for violence".

The post-election violence in Kenya was very much on the minds of Zimbabweans, said Ndlovu, but tribal outrage was unlikely in Zimbabwe. Violence could occur, he predicted, if the opposition party felt Mugabe’s party had rigged the election and therefore stolen it.

Ndlovu said the church was praying that the former ruling party, if it lost the election, would "accept the outcome … and contribute to the good of the future of our nation as a positive and credible opposition".  He said he hoped that if Tsvangirai won he would create a culture of tolerance, support development programmes, and be a leader who would unite the nation, the Mennonite news service reported.

Ecumenical News International